Updated: May 15
People often ask me how I became a jewellery designer/ maker. I suppose the most traditional path to where I am now would have been making from an early age, an apprenticeship with a jeweller or perhaps going to university to study Jewellery and Silversmithing. But that’s not my path, so how did I end up here?
As a child I loved “making things.” If I’m honest most of the “things” were from scraps found about the house and involved a fair amount of wool as my Mum was a knitter. I did a bit of painting, made scrap books and threaded beads, even making a copper tea caddy spoon in metalwork at school. I remember loving the shaping and hammering involved in making that spoon and the magic in designing something physical from a flat sheet of copper. I still have that well used tea caddy spoon to remind me of the very first item I made in metal, well before making became my career.
At that point I didn’t realise that I would end up being a jeweller, I didn't even realise that it could be an option. I knew I loved jewellery and being creative but there's still a leap from that into a career. The phrase "you need to see it to be it" is so true when I think back to deciding career options myself. At that time the roles I could see people from my High School doing were often traditional professions like medicine and law, with most people going on to university to study traditional subjects which they had done at school in more depth.
I knew I wanted to do something practical where skills were applied in a real world setting rather than just an academic one. I was looking for something creative, where I could make use of my design skills so I trained as an Urban Designer. This was, I suppose, a first step on the roundabout path to where I am now. I worked on planning spaces, building design and landscaping. I learnt the relationship between form and function and began to think in three dimensions, rotating designs in my head to see all the angles. How would the building look to the neighbours, how would the internal layout of the flat work best for those living there and does the landscaping proposed as part of this scheme really work for wildlife? It was all on the path to a creative career but instead of a route from A to B in a straight line, I was effectively going round the houses.
Starting with silver
After having my children, I began silversmithing as a hobby. Originally it started as a way for me to create all the jewellery I could see in my mind but couldn’t find in the shops, making for myself at first and then as gifts for family and friends. I was always drawn to design and create jewellery inspired by the shapes and forms of the Norfolk countryside, sculptural pieces which are easy to wear everyday . I began to focus towards designing jewellery which would form a tactile and portable connection between the wearer and the landscape.
The path ran alongside my family and work commitments to start with then, little by little, I began to spend more time on my jewellery. People began to ask where I got my jewellery and to ask me to make things for them and so Helen Cross Jewellery was born. Over time I took classes and certificates, learning from some incredibly talented Jewellers. Starting with a simple silver ring I built up my experience with each item I made and learning in a very organic way, or example finding out how to set a stone because I wanted to make something with stone as part of its design. For me, this was the perfect way to learn because it allowed me to experiment, first seeing a design in my mind and then working out how to make it rather than having a set project to complete.
Up to date
Now I think my roundabout career path has finally brought me to my destination. I design my jewellery myself and then handmake it, working mainly in silver. My work is inspired by the sculptural forms and textures of the rural landscape near my home in Norfolk, an area of gently rolling fields, woodlands, and waterscapes, edged by the sea, and wrapped in open skies.
It’s not been a straightforward path, but one which ultimately got to the right destination. I’m not designing spaces to live in any longer, but it turns out the skills I developed then are pretty similar to those needed for making jewellery. Things like visualising a completed proposal from a sketch, thinking about how the design will work when in use and of course working with clients to realise their dreams are all transferable skills for making jewellery. Jewellery after all is effectively small-scale sculpture which is worn, rather than lived or worked in, but it is still something that is physical and long lasting within people’s lives.
I think for me, like so many people, the direction you set off in when you begin your career isn’t anywhere near the same compass point as your destination, you’ll find yourself in as time passes. There are often diversions, some doubling back, reassessment and redirection along the way but that’s fine. It’s about learning as you go along but ultimately finding your dream job. My dream job is this one, making jewellery for those who notice the change of the seasons even in the busiest urban space and for those who love the calm and serenity of the countryside, how about you?
This blog is going to be about my journey as I begin my small business. There'll be plenty of stuff about jewellery, the ups and downs of running a small creative business and bits and bobs about life here in Norfolk. It's also my way of make creative careers more visible, coming back to the mantra " you need to see it to be it". If you'd like to see and hear more, why not subscribe?
Photo credit -
Picture of Helen Cross by Elliot Wilcox for British Library
© Helen Cross Jewellery 2022